Museo Malvinas e Islas del Atlántico Sur [Malvinas and South Atlantic Islands Museum]

There is something that has always struck me as phenomenally tragic about the Malvinas War.

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                                                     They weren’t even brought home.                                                                                           Photo by Tomás Terroba                                    

It isn’t the biggest waste of life ever perpetrated, but it was a waste of life all the same.

It’s not easy for people who were born and raised in imperial powers to understand, either.  There’s a lot of background to the conflict, which is important for understanding how the islands are generally viewed by Argentines, and I am in no way well-versed in the history of it, so I’m going to try to briefly illustrate what was going on before the war broke out in 1982.

1– The sovereignty of the Malvinas (they are known officially outside of Argentina as the Falklands, but this is where I live and also what the museum is called, so I’m going to stick with Malvinas) had been in dispute for 200 years, although they have been held continuously by the British since 1833.

2– The belief that the Malvinas are rightfully the possession of Argentina has been culturally entrenched for a long time.

3– British rule over the Malvinas is seen as imperialistic, and the imperial ambitions of European nations and the US has long wreaked profound tragedy across South America, and indeed the political interference of those nations was actively still doing that in the support of the various military juntas that overthrew Latin American governments at the time.

4– Argentina’s military dictatura had murdered thousands of people and was facing a severe economic crisis and growing opposition; the war was a somewhat cynical ploy to bolster home support by appealing to that dumbest of manipulable emotions, nationalism.  The war, the loss–it’s all tainted by its association with an illegitimate and murderous regime.

5– Unlike the US, which is more or less constantly sending soldiers to die in conflicts, Argentina hadn’t been involved in any foreign conflicts to speak of since the Paraguayan War in 1870.  Most of the Argentine war dead in the Malvinas were conscripts.

So–the Museo Malvinas is located on the edge of the ex-Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, once the largest clandestine detention center and execution site during the dictatura, now a memorial complex.  The museum itself is quite new and really lovely.

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Outside the building is a large pool with a map of the Malvinas in the middle:

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As seen from inside the building

and a memorial to the ARA General Belgrano, which was sunk by British torpedoes with 321 of its crew and two civilians.

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It’s not a particularly comforting space.  You walk down, until the silhouettes of the ship are above you.  The sound of the fountain forcefully brings to mind the idea of water rushing into the ship.  It is an evocative, emotional memorial.

Inside, the museum covers the history and flora and fauna of the islands.

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That is the focus of the very polished film that runs inside this little theater, despite its introduction here.

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There is a lot of multimedia in the museum.

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There are also areas that cover the older history of the islands as well as Argentine-British relations.

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Antonio Rivero is something of a folk hero within the Malvinas story, but he’s maybe better characterized as someone who was really, really upset over a labor dispute.

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A sizable portion of the museum is dedicated to how the Malvinas have been and are currently addressed in Argentina’s culture, and the idea and importance of sovereignty.

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Much of the museum works to make the concepts accessible to the children who visit; this interactive map says “How do we build paths to the Malvinas?” and the strings are color-coded to the choices that can be made as a nation: diplomacy, dialog, peace, conflict, compromise, etc.

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Plenty of space is also given to the war and the dictatura (the leaders had assumed that the UK would not really bother with a military response and that the US, which Argentina had been aiding in funding the Nicaraguan Contras, would stay discreetly out of it, neither of which would be true) that made the dumb ass decision to go through with the invasion.

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A Mother of the Plaza de Mayo implores viewers to remember the Disappeared are also Argentines.
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A soldier lost his sleeve and the arm that was in it.

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A lot of dumb ass propaganda going around, too. 

The war dead are, naturally, also memorialized.  You can watch the tablets and note how many were young draftees.

So, for better or worse, the Malvinas remain a British holding (the Falklanders, incidentally, are overwhelmingly of British descent and wish to stay within the UK).  The brief war ended with 904 dead and 2432 wounded.  The loss finally brought down the dictatura, which had bought nothing with all the blood it spent for Argentina except meaningless grief and psychic scars.

The Malvinas are currently on the 50 peso note.

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The Museo Malvinas e Islas del Atlántico Sur is free and open seven days a week and holidays.  It’s accessible by train and several bus lines, as it is situated at the back of the ESMA on Avenida del Libertador, a huge avenue.  None of the signage is in English, so if your language is weak, you’ll need to bring a translator.  There’s a nice small cafe within the building.

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